When Prime Minister Boris Johnson is accusing anyone else of “astonishing and shameful” responses to Covid-19, and when Scottish Secretary Alister Jack is describing others as “reckless” in how they are handling this health crisis, they should be put in their place.
The facts are the UK is third highest in the world for excess deaths per million and second highest for total excess deaths. The virus was allowed to spread throughout the UK, with all 12 regions suffering excess death rates at least 30 per cent above normal. The government took more than three months to create a track and trace system that doesn’t work. The UK economy is being hit harder than other countries precisely because of the failure to stem the virus quickly. The UK Government is in no position to lecture anyone about how to handle this crisis – on that score, it is among the world’s worst mishandlers. They should be permanently walking round with their heads hanged in shame for such an appalling record.
Instead, they are on the offensive over the Scottish-English border, as they think political capital can be made out of ramping up the issue. And they know that Nicola Sturgeon will not fully hit back, because she wants to be seen to not be politicising the issue. As Machiavelli knew only too well and I’m sure Sturgeon deep down knows too, power and politics can’t be separated. Allowing the Tories to set the narrative over this issue is putting the First Minister unnecessarily on the back-foot, when she has a winning hand – Scotland is stemming the virus better than England. There is no outbreak in a Scottish city akin to Leicester. Boris Johnson’s flagrant disregard for the health of English citizens and determination to get the country back to work early so the English can not just ‘clap for capitalists’ but put money back in their pockets is what has caused this uneven situation across the UK mainland. Say it. But the First Minister won’t, partly because she does not want the rebounds of such shots to come back at her, after assiduously following the Prime Minister in the early stages of this crisis (and Scotland suffering a terrible toll as a consequence), and partly because she doesn’t want to get dragged into a constitutional skirmish.
Johnson’s “there is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland” is of course a provocation. He wants to draw Sturgeon into being associated with the imaginary of big border walls and barbed wire between Scotland and England. This idea is an important part of the unionist narrative, especially post-Brexit when the possibility of an independent Scotland in the EU and rUK out of the EU would invariably mean a trade border between the two countries. Borders are an important visualisation technique in politics – think Trump’s “build the wall”, and on the other side the coin the fall of the Berlin Wall. The only way to effectively hit back is to tell the truth – that Johnson is a prime minister that has failed to look after the health of his own people through his outright failure to use proven pandemic control techniques to stem the virus. Any quarantine would be the inevitable result of that failure, nothing else.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance has also picked its side, saying that they have been asked by some people in England planning to visit Scotland if they will get their money back if there is a quarantine. The notion that anyone can plan a holiday anywhere right now and it will be an entirely safe bet that it can go ahead is for the birds. Which is why most people booking hotel rooms are doing so only if they have free cancellation. The STA will take any opportunity they can to press the Scottish Government to loosen health restrictions, that has been clear for some time. But it won’t be the STA who are in the firing line if there is a second outbreak in Scotland, it will be the First Minister. She would do well to ignore the corporate tourism lobby for the time being.
The best argument there is for Scottish independence is the uncaring, corporate profits-driven reality of Tory Westminster rule. The fact that also over-laps with the reality of this Scotland-England border dispute is not something to shy away from; it’s just another example of UK plc putting profits before people, and there being a price to be paid for that in a pandemic. Sometimes fighting fire with fire is the right way to do politics.
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